Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Power of Color

An easy yet powerful tool for influence.

Key points

  • There is extensive research literature on the psychology of color.
  • While colors like yellow and red can be used to stand out, a color like blue may convey calm but with some energy.
  • Color can also affect our judgment.
Hippo px, no attribution required, CC 0
Source: Hippo px, no attribution required, CC 0

Let's say you want to influence someone's attitude or behavior. Common tactics include:

  • Testimonials
  • The bandwagon technique: "Everyone’s doing it."
  • Confirmation bias, or preaching to the choir. For example, politicians focus less on changing people’s minds than on getting true believers to vote.

Another influencer is color. Indeed, there is extensive research literature on the psychology of color. Here are some findings that tend to apply to many people. Of course, an individual may react differently. As they say, "Your results may vary."


White is commonly associated with purity and sincerity. Of course, white also is bright and when it's the dominant color, it maximizes the power of an accent color. For example, Apple, among the world's most successful marketers, has made white its core color, with gray as the accent. That avoids seeming hard-sell and is gender-neutral.

How might you use white as an influencer? For example, in your resume and other documents, leave plenty of white space, even if you need to add an additional page. White space conveys not only sincerity but easy readability, relaxedness, and lack of desperation. Think of how you'd feel if you were deciding which of two job applicants to interview. Their resumes are identical except that one had everything crammed into one page with little white space while the other used two pages with plenty of white space. Wouldn't the white-space applicant have an advantage?

You might want to wear white when you want to appear bright without being showy, as would be the case with, for example, yellow, red, or purple. To avoid appearing monochromatic literally and figuratively, consider adding a subtle accent. perhaps a pin or a pen in your pocket of a color you like.


It can suggest death but also sophistication. Indeed, black has been the color of cool, but like all fashion, colors go in and out. Black's half-life has been longer than most but it may be peaking. The all-black look is seen by some as a cliché.


If Priority One is to stand out, bright yellow is an answer. That’s why “caution” signs and police tape are bright yellow. On a positive note, yellow can signify happiness, as in the smiley face usually being yellow, like sunshine. Someone at my book publisher (Wiley/Dummies) told me that the company worked hard to find a color combination for the for Dummies series that would stand out while looking friendly and accessible on the bookstore shelf. The winner: bright yellow contrasted with shiny black. Of course, in other circumstances, bright yellow could seem like you’re trying too hard to get attention.


Along with yellow, red is, of course, an attention-getter. But while companies are expected to sell hard, if an individual uses red too much, it can feel unseemly, too passionate, even desperate. Also, red is associated with Republicans ("red" states), and the GOP is out of favor.


For many situations, blue is a solid choice. In surveys, when asked, “What’s your favorite color?” blue is usually the top choice. It conveys calm but with some energy—a nice balance. Of course, different blues suggest different feelings: sky blue may more often be seen as hopeful, idealistic, future-oriented, or spiritual. Medium blue is broadly appealing, and navy blue conveys solidity although very dark blue could invoke sadness, even fear.

Red plus blue

Using both red and blue can work, but an image containing both of those plus white can evoke images of U.S. patriotism, which, in some circles today, is derided.


While pink can be effective, as in Code Pink and Think Pink, there is the risk of gender-stereotyping, This may help explain the popularity of greens, oranges, purples, and earth tones.

The takeaway

We all like to think that we’re persuaded by the facts. Alas, tactics such as testimonials, bandwagon, appealing to confirmation bias, and, yes, color, can affect our judgment. In addition to those techniques, here are 32 influencing words.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

More from Marty Nemko Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today